Author and law professor Stephen L. Carter raised the stakes of literary thriller fiction with his bestselling novel The Emperor of Ocean Park. His latest novel, New England White, continues in that tradition, raising the stakes even more.
Readers of the first novel may remember mention of the Carlyles, a prominent and wealthy African American family residing in Connecticut. The family becomes the main focus in New England White. The newly appointed president of the university and former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Lemaster Carlyle, and his wife, Dean Julia Carlyle, discover the body of Professor Kellen Zant on their drive home after a fundraising event one night.
Before that moment, life had already been strained for the Carlyle family. Their teenage daughter, Vanessa, had set her fatherís Mercedes on fire in an apparent act of rebellion and was obsessed with a 30-year-old murder of a young local woman around her age. The eldest Carlyle son seemed to be avoiding the family, staying as far away from them as possible, not even returning home for the holidays. Julia was not quite happy with her marriage, which she knew was more a marriage of comfort and security as opposed to one of passion, a stark contrast from the relationships she had had with Kellen Zant before she married Lemaster all those years before. Yet family was the most important thing in Juliaís life, and she would do anything to protect them.
Despite the death of Kellen, Julia finds that his name kept coming up in conversations. When she is approached by a well-known journalist and author who believes Julia is protecting something of Kellenís, then later by an attorney with shady and powerful clientele who will not tolerate her lack of cooperation, Julia refuses to be drawn into whatever trouble Kellen was evidently involved in. The body count mounts, and the secret Kellen was hiding is in high demand. Despite her efforts, when questioned by one of the investigating detectives on the case and the universityís director of safety, Bruce Vallely, both of whom suspect her daughter, Vanessa, may have played in Kellanís recent activities, Julia knows she has no choice but to search out the truth herself. Kellen, while alive, had anticipated that and set out clues that only Julia could understand and follow. One way or the other, the truth would come out.
Julia is not sure who she can trust and so sets out on her own, afraid of what she might discover about her own familyís secrets yet determined that knowing the truth is the only way to protect them and perhaps, in the end, seek justice.
Stephen L. Carter weaves an intricate, detailed web that will keep the reader guessing until the very end. The author tackles racial and political issues as well as greed and cover-up. And what of justice versus striving for the greater good? Juliaís fascination with antique mirrors is more telling than a simple hobby. Mirrors symbolize truth but can also be used to create illusion. Secrets and lies permeate every corner of the novel. Each of the characters is complex and multi-layered; not one is without faults. Julia, who in the beginning of the novel is annoyingly compliant and comes across as weak, finds her legs and brings to the forefront some of that moxie that she has suppressed for so long.
New England White is not a book that can be read quickly. It requires thought on the readerís part and close attention to detail
lest an important piece of the puzzle be overlooked. This is more of an intellectual thriller than an action-packed one; at times it moves rather slowly, but it is well worth the time
spent reading it.